MUSIC BOX: Earthy Appalachian Folk

By on September 15, 2015

Sister songstresses’ sound birthed from urban-meets-mountain upbringing


Rising Appalachia (left), features the global sensibilities of sisters Leah and Chloe Smith. Rabbit Wilde opens the show, Sunday at the Pink Garter, with harmony laced Americana.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The history of the Appalachian region is rich with old-time music. From the pre-banjo and pre-guitar era of the early 1800s, when solo fiddle tunes kept the rhythms tight, to the inclusion of the banjo after 1860, and onto the popularity of the guitar beginning in 1910, the sounds and arrangements have constantly evolved.

Enter the tandem duo of delicate and weaving voices that is Rising Appalachia, featuring sisters Leah and Chloe Smith, and backed by guitarist/bassist David Brown and pan-cultural percussionist Biko Casini. Born in Atlanta, former Asheville, N.C. residents and currently residing in New Orleans, the Smith sisters grew up on “Appalachian lullabies at night and soul music for breakfast” while also being trained in classical and jazz piano. The sound that has risen from the ashes of their influential childhood in the South is an earthy one. Nuanced clawhammer banjo and simplistic fiddle riffing is placed over varying beats from tribal to Afro-Cuban. The bass and groove is used, not unlike The Carolina Chocolate Drops, as a platform for a poetic lyrical context ranging from soul singing to spoken word rallies.

“We were urban kids, but our mother was involved in the traditions of southern Appalachian folk music,” Leah told Sparkleberry Lane music blog. “She is also an amazing folk musician. Our whole lives we would be in the city during the week, and on the weekend we would be all over the southern Appalachian in North Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia. We would go up for the weekend and chase fiddle music. So we were always raised with that influence in our lives in part, but we also had a big relationship with jazz and the deep urban South. We grew up in a very multi-cultural neighborhood and city. I took tons of West African dance classes, tap dancing classes, jazz piano. We were involved in a bunch of amazing elements of world culture as well. It was amazing, and really valuable.”

To Leah and Chloe, it wasn’t about retelling Appalachian traditions or reliving urban traditions, but rather taking all of these influences and mixing them into a sound that was “rising out of Appalachia.” The idea of a music project came after doing outreach, education and activism in college. They decided to make a music album as a holiday gift to their family, recorded in a day and featuring old songs. That spurred an onslaught of invitations to perform. Songs of politics, love and whiskey followed.

Rising Appalachia’s sixth studio album, “Wider Circles,” is a follow up to 2012’s “Filthy Dirty South,” a cross-section of styles based on their lives in New Orleans, which is celebrating a thriving roots music scene, as well as their travels abroad to the communities of Goa in India.

The album “is in tribute to our journey on this troubadour path and is in homage to the incredible people we have collaborated with, met along the way, and been championed by,” Chloe said.

“In our own humble opinion having traveled all over the world, [New Orleans] is one of the strongest and most DIY communities we’ve had the pleasure to call home,” the sisters told Hearth Music. “Because there are limited financial resources in that city compared to most major art centers in the country, there is both a necessity and a sort of old-school ‘call upon your neighbors’ mentality of sharing, collaborating, being transparent and involving as many artists as you can in any and every project that comes to fruition.”

Rabbit Wilde returns to town to open the show after a few months with foot-stomp Americana—two female, two male lineup incorporating ukulele, cello, kick-drum, guitar and a harmonious vocal blend approaching a sound pioneered by The Mamas and The Papas.

With the one thousandth edition of the Jackson Hole Hootenanny sold out at the Center Theater on Monday, this show will be your best bet to get the folk fix you’ve been craving. PJH

Rising Appalachia with Rabbit Wilde, 8 p.m., Sunday at the Pink Garter Theatre. $12-$15.

Aaron Davis is an award-winning singer-songwriter, journalist, multi-instrumentalist, frontman for bands Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, and founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley.

About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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